Afghanistan Early History Part III

By | December 16, 2021

The first contacts of the English with Afghānistān had taken place in 1809, when Elphinstone was sent to Shāh Shugia ‛al-Mulk to prevent the possibility that Napoleon, through Russia and Persia, would attempt any move against India. In 1837 the viceroy of the Indies, Lord Auckland, to whom Dōst Muḥammad had asked for help against the Sikhs, refused, but sent Sir Afghanistan Burnes to Kābul to counteract the influence of Russia, whose representative Vitcovitch had been called to Qandahār by his brothers of the sovereign. The Anglo-Afghan negotiations failed due to the impossibility of obtaining aid from the Indian government against the Sikhs; Vitcovitch instead concluded an agreement between the Bārakzȧ’ī of Qandahār and Persia, longa manus of Russia, who undertook to conquer Herat for them. At the end of 1837 Persian troops with Russian, French and Italian officers besieged Herat. An English officer, Pottinger, commanded the defense and raised the siege. This episode gave rise to war.

Before AFGH war ā na. – England, despite the defeat suffered by the Russians and Dōst Muḥammad, who could hardly represent an immediate danger for India, undertook to put back on the throne the inept and disliked Shāh Shugiā ‛al-Mulk, to have a vassal in Kābul. In 1838 Sir J. Keane, with 21,000 men, invaded Afghānistān, took Qandahār and Ghaznī, restored Shugiā ‛in Kābul (August 1839), and withdrew leaving strong garrisons. For Afghanistan history, please check

The British envoy to Kābul, Macnaghten, set out to affirm the sovereign’s authority by limiting that of the tribal chiefs. He reduced all power into his own hands, thus depriving the sovereign; the mistakes he made and allowed his English collaborators to commit led the British program to ruin. Preceded by troubles in various places, the revolt broke out in Kābul at the end of 1841: Macnaghten and other officers were murdered; the retreating garrison, attacked by the Ghilzā’ī between Kābul and Gelālābād, was destroyed; only twenty men, of whom only one English, reached India. Disaster that deeply affected the British public opinion.

In 1842 an English punitive expedition freed the prisoners and destroyed the bazaar and citadel of Kābul. Shugiā ‛al-Mulk had been assassinated by the insurgents: Dōst Muḥammad returned to the throne, to the satisfaction of the English, who for almost forty years had no interest in Afghānistān. In 1854, however, they concluded a treaty with Dōst Muḥammad; the two parties undertook to respect each other’s territory.

Dōst Muḥammad dedicated himself to the reconstruction of his state, he reconquered Turkestān, Qunduz, Badakhshān, Herāt, he recovered Qandahār succeeding his brothers. In 1856, when Persia took Herāt back, England declared war on it, defeated it, and obtained its renunciation to Afghānistān. At the same time the Anglo-Afghan alliance was concluded in Peshāwar: England sent officers to the Afghan troops and gave the Emir a subsidy for military expenses, but undertook not to interfere with internal affairs.

The AngloRussian rivalry. – Dōst Muḥammad died in 1863. During his reign and in the following decade the Anglo-Russian tension developed as the two powers extended their Asian dominions. With the conquest of Sind (1843) and Pangiāb (1849) England reached the Afghan border, while the Russians advanced to the SE. along the Āmū Daryā. In 1856 Persia attacked Herāt, in 1863-66 the Russians took Tāshkent, passed Iaxarte and attacked Khōqand; in 1868, after the occupation of Samarkand, Bukhārā became a Russian dependency, in 1873 Russia conquered Khīvā, getting closer and closer to the northern Afghan border. The importance of having Afghānistān on its side was growing for England, and for Afghānistān the need to protect its existence.

From 1864 to 69 the usual struggles for the throne between the three sons of Dōst Muhammad: the viceroy Lord Lawrence ignored them, inaugurating the dangerous policy of “masterful inaction”. Shēr ‛Alī prevailed over his brothers, was recognized by the government of India, and in 1869 he pledged to be” friend of England’s friends and enemy of enemies “, but was unable to obtain any explicit promise of help against possible Russian attacks.. In 1873, while Russia occupied Khīvā, an English arbitration commission defined the Sīstān border, between Afghānistān and Persia, favoring the latter. Disappointed and worried, Shēr ‛Alī invoked the British alliance, received only vague assurances of support, and gravitated towards Russia. In 1874 the Conservatives came to the government in England, who understood the Russian danger, but Shēr ‛Alī was now lost to England and rejected the offer of a treaty of alliance (1877). The following year he received a Russian agent and signed a treaty similar to the Anglo-Afghan treaty of 1880, refusing to receive a British mission. Then the second Afghan war broke out.

Afghanistan Early History Part III